- While throngs of union workers rallied and carried wood coffins in a mock funeral procession in response to the recent rise in New York City construction worker deaths, the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings met in an effort to expedite several bills aiming to increase worker protection at the end of last week, according to The New York Times.
- Two of the new bills would double the penalties for contractors who are caught working without a permit or violating a stop-work order. Another bill, The Times reported, would establish a task force, led by the Department of Buildings, that would constantly assess the safety risks posed to workers and the general public around construction sites.
- The Times recently published the results of its investigation into the rise in construction fatalities in the city over the last two years and found they exceeded the rate of new construction during the same period. The investigation also found that immigrant workers, vulnerable to exploitation, on nonunion jobs accounted for most of the deaths.
"Saving New Yorkers' lives is the reason that I called this hearing today," said Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, the committee’s chairman. "To the families of those that we have lost, and to those who have been injured, let me say loudly and clearly: We hear you, and we are here because of you."
However, not all New York City officials appear to back the proposed new safety legislation. New York City Building Commissioner Rick Chandler told The Times that Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been accused of favoring developers over safety, opposes the bills because, if the penalties are too high, this might drive work "underground," creating even more dangerous conditions. Chandler noted the DOB has established a risk management office to pinpoint safety issues.
Chandler also told The Times the majority of accidents have occurred on buildings up to nine stories high, so the DOB will focus more on those sites, as well as possibly require construction superintendents to be present on all mid-size alteration project sites.
Nevertheless, city council members are not leaving safety up to the DOB. Councilman Rory I. Lancman has introduced a bill to require the DOB to report all safety violations to OSHA, and other council members announced another bill that would require all developers who build higher than 10 stories to put workers through a training program approved by the State Department of Labor.
A report by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, AM New York reported, found that from 2012 to 2013, 72% of fatal fall construction accidents in New York City occurred on non-union work sites, but, according to The Times, the DOB could not confirm that fact, as they said they do not keep records of whether a project uses union workers.
This move by the council, however, is not the first major step to stop blatant safety violations. City officials started a construction task force deal earlier this year as a result of the increased corruption in the industry that some officials say accompanied the city's recent building boom. That task force will also target companies that ignore safety regulations.